It was a constant refrain from Donald Trump on the stump.
He was going to repeal Common Core. How did we know? He kept repeating it over-and-over.
“We’re cutting Common Core. We’re getting rid of Common Core,” he said during a debate in Detroit.
“Common Core is a total disaster. We can’t let it continue,” he said in a campaign ad.
But then, he did a complete 180:
“We are going to do some things special. Okay. Are you ready? Common Core we’re going to keep.”
It didn’t go down so well with his supporters. He was literally booed. So he took to Twitter with the following:
“I was referring to the fact that Jeb Bush wants to keep common core.”
So what’s his position now? Someone asked him about it in New Hampshire. His response:
“I didn’t know Common Core was so complicated. Isn’t this ridiculous?”
On that we can agree.
But it really doesn’t matter.
POWER TO THE STATES
Whether Trump supports Common Core or not, he’s actually kind of powerless to do anything about it.
Republicans have been arguing for years that the federal government can’t tell the states what they should be teaching. That’s the crux of opposition, and the newly reauthorized federal law governing K-12 schools, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), underlines it.
The power is unequivocally in the hands of governors and state legislatures.
The states control which academic standards their public schools are supposed to subscribe to or not. And since the beginning of 2017, the states are overwhelmingly in Republican control.
There are 98 partisan state legislative chambers in the United States. Republicans dominate 67 of them. In fact, the GOP controls both legislative chambers in 32 states – the most it has in the party’s history! And in 24 of those states, Republicans also run the show in the Governor’s mansion – the trifecta!
In short, despite any limits on Presidential power, the GOP has never been in a better position to get rid of Common Core.
If Republicans truly wanted to repeal it, they could do so tomorrow, and there’s zero Democrats could do about it in almost half of the country.
Yet, Republicans don’t.
And they don’t seem in any rush to put it on their agenda in the future.
Which brings me to a serious question any critic of Common Core has to answer: WHY!?
Republicans say they hate Common Core.
They have the power to get rid of it.
Why don’t they do it?
THE STATE OF COMMON CORE
Despite any comments to the contrary, any blathering talking head nonsense from media pundits, the facts remain the same.
Common Core is still the law of the land in 36 states and the District of Columbia.
Sure, some legislatures have changed the name and made nominal revisions (Hello, Pennsylvania!) but they’re still essentially the same standards applied in the same way. The Common Core’s own Website doesn’t distinguish between states that have the standards outright and those where they have been slightly revised or renamed.
Specifically, nine states have announced plans to rewrite or replace the standards, but in the majority of these cases, they have resulted merely in slight revisions. Only Missouri, Oklahoma, and Tennessee appear to have created significantly different standards, according to Education Week.
So what’s the hold up?
MAIN OBJECTIONS TO THE CORE
Full disclosure: I am not a Republican. I am the farthest thing you could find to a Republican. But on this one issue we agree.
No, I don’t think Common Core will make your child gay or indoctrinate kids into a far left worldview or any of a number of bizarre, crackpot criticisms you might hear from mentally ill pundits being exploited by far right media conglomerates. Nor am I opposed simply to undo any signature legislative achievements of our first black President.
But I do think there are several rational reasons to be against Common Core. The standards were written almost exclusively by representatives of the standardized testing industry with input from very few practicing classroom teachers and zero child psychologists. They have never been tested and proven effective. In many cases, they are developmentally inappropriate. They were adopted non-democratically. And – perhaps worst of all – they commit schools to the failed educational management technique of test-and-punish.
THAT’S why I’m against Common Core.
But it really doesn’t matter.
Even if people like Glenn Beck and I disagree on the reasons why, we both agree on the course of action – repeal Common Core.
Yet the incumbent batch of GOP lawmakers across the country are letting us both down.
If one has to be beaten by Republicans, at least let them accomplish the things that have bipartisan support. That includes repealing Common Core.
Though the media likes to characterize this as a conservative issue, it’s not just Republicans who want to get rid of the Core. Regardless of politics, most people dislike the standards. They aren’t popular with adults. They aren’t popular with children. And most tellingly, they aren’t popular with classroom teachers.
According to the most recent Education Next poll, less than half of all Americans, 49%, favor the policy. In partisan terms, that’s 37% of Republicans and 57% of Democrats. And that support has been steadily dropping every year – by 20 points for Republicans and seven for Democrats since 2013.
And among teachers, the drop is even more dramatic. Only 40% now favor the Core. That’s a drop of 36 points among those who know the standards best!
So let’s get rid of them.
For once I’m with Trump.
But the legislatures just won’t do it.
In some ways, this shares parallels with the healthcare debate.
Before going forward, let me just say that I am NOT in favor of repealing Obamacare and going back to the previous system. Nor am I in favor of repealing without a replacement or any of the so-called “skinny” plans put forth by the GOP.
I think we need single payer healthcare. Medicare for all.
But be that as it may. The debate offers us a similar example from the federal level.
Republicans say they hate Obamacare yet despite the fact that Democrats can do nothing to stop them, they refuse to repeal it.
In this case, the reason is obvious – they have nothing with which to replace it.
After all these years, they can’t come up with a plan that will improve upon the one already in place.
But this isn’t the case at the state level when it comes to Common Core.
Each and every state had a set of academic standards before Common Core. In most cases, these standards were actually far superior.
All the legislatures would have to do is reinstate them.
Pennsylvania’s standards were particularly reasonable, flexible yet grade appropriate and comprehensive.
We could go back to them tomorrow.
But we don’t.
It’s that same question again.
What is holding us back?
Here’s my theory: it’s the testing.
One of the most frustrating things for Common Core critics is when apologists say they hate standardized testing but love Common Core.
The two are inextricably interlinked. You can’t have Common Core without the testing. That is the whole point of the standards – to tell districts what to focus on because those things will be on the federally mandated high stakes standardized tests.
If states repeal Common Core, what happens to these tests?
Before adopting the Core, each state had a test aligned to its own specific standards. Even where some states had the same tests, their standards were significantly similar to allow this. In any case, most states that have adopted the Core have had to buy new, more difficult tests.
Sure, we could all go back to the tests we used to give, but this would present certain problems.
First, many states were taking tests that were already being aligned with Common Core before they officially adopted it. If they got rid of the standards, they couldn’t go back to the old tests because they’re already Common Core specific.
In theory, they could ask to reinstate older versions of the test that aren’t Common Core aligned. However, in practice for some states, this might necessitate the creation of yet another batch of new tests.
However, in many states like Pennsylvania, this wouldn’t be an issue. Before the Core, they had their own tests based on state specific standards. There’s really no reason why they couldn’t dust off these old tests and put them back into circulation.
The problem is that this would require politicians to justify the millions of dollars (at least $7 billion nationally) they wasted on the new tests, new workbooks, new textbooks, etc.
Lawmakers would have to own their mistakes.
They’d have to say, “My bad!”
And most of them aren’t about to do that.
Of course, there is a third option: they could undo the high stakes testing altogether. They could characterize this not as a misstep but a reform.
According to the ESSA, all states have to give federally mandated standardized tests from grades 3-8 and once in high school.
But what exactly those tests look like is debatable.
The federal government is supposed to give them leeway in this matter. What better way for the Trump administration and Betsy DeVos to demonstrate their commitment to local control than by approving accountability plans that don’t include standardized testing?
States could substitute student projects, classroom grades, internships, even community service for this mandate.
I’m sure if lawmakers were really serious about getting rid of Common Core, they could figure out a way to make this work. It would just require a commitment to patching up the massive hole in our school funding system where the standardized testing industry has been sucking away tax dollars that could be better used elsewhere – like in the actual act of teaching students!
THE CYNICAL INTERPRETATION
Which brings me to perhaps the most cynical interpretation of the data.
Republicans may be avoiding the Common Core issue because their opposition up to now was simply disingenuous partisan infighting. They could be craven servants to the testing industry. Or – and this is the worst case scenario – they could have another endgame in mind entirely.
Whenever the issue is brought up these days – whenever ANY educational issue is brought up – the Trump administration almost always pivots to school choice.
For instance, here’s Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway during an interview with Jake Tapper on CNN.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos “will get on with the business of executing on the president’s vision for education,” Conway said. “He’s made very clear all throughout the campaign and as president he wants to repeal Common Core, he doesn’t think that federal standards are better than local and parental control…And that children should not be restricted in terms of education opportunities just by their ZIP code, just by where they live. We’ve got to look at homeschooling, and charter schools, and school choice and other alternatives for certain students.”
It’s possible that today’s Republicans at both the state and federal level aren’t concerned with repealing Common Core because it’s irrelevant to their ultimate goal – repealing the very notion of public education.
If every school or almost every school was a charter, voucher or homeschool, Common Core would be a moot point.
After all, choice schools don’t have to follow most regulations. That could include using the Core.
This is especially true at voucher schools and homeschools. They can do pretty much whatever they please in most states. If they don’t want to use Common Core, the states have little power (as yet) to force them to do so. Of course accepting tax-payer funding does open them up to being regulated in the future if the political winds change.
On the other hand, charter schools often allegedly do use Common Core, but regulations are so lax with so few measures to hold them accountable for anything in most states that whether they’re actually using the standards and to what extent is anyone’s guess. Unscrupulous charter operators could conceivably forgo the standards regardless of state mandates with little fear of being found out or contradicted.
This may be the ultimate selling point for school choice. Almost anything goes. It could certainly allow schools to circumvent Common Core, just as it allows them to circumvent civil rights protections, fiscal responsibility, democratic local control – really any kind of protections to ensure taxpayer money is being spent responsibly and kids are actually being educated.
In short, it hammers a nail with a bazooka. Yet conservative lawmakers may only be concerned with who’s selling the bazooka and not who gets hit by the shrapnel.
For a long time now, education policy has been about where the money is, and that is unequivocally behind school choice. What these policies lack in public support they make up for in sugar daddies. Billionaires on both sides of the aisle have been pouring cash into these efforts for years.
Just imagine! Anyone with the backing can start a school and pocket as much of the tax dollars originally meant to educate kids but now transformed into sweet, sweet profit!
In fact, the point behind high stakes testing was primarily to undercut support for public schools. It was to “prove” our schools were failing and needed to be replaced with charter and voucher schools. But once we’ve gotten rid of public schools, the testing won’t be as necessary.
It will become just another revenue stream in a multitudinous school system where education only has meaning in how much it can profitize students and enrich investors.
That may be the true endgame for policymakers.
Common Core is just one of a number of schemes they’re pushing to take advantage of the country’s fastest growing revenue stream: our children.
THIS is why lawmakers – both Republican and Democrat – won’t get rid of Common Core.
They are bought and sold employees of Wall Street and Corporate America.
Too many people are making a fortune off the backs of our children – charter and voucher school investors, book publishers, software companies, test manufacturers, private prison corporations! They aren’t about to let their profits take a nosedive by allowing their paid agents in the legislature to turn off the gravy train.
THAT’S why Republicans haven’t ended Common Core.
That’s why they never will.